Science of sales and art of relationship-building

In these uncertain times, as companies around the world continue their phased transition out of lockdown, ensuring the commercial wellbeing of your business has never been more vital.

In many instances, lockdown has resulted in markets and supply chains being disrupted and trade relationships becoming uncertain. Consultants such as McKinsey & Company are indicating that consumer confidence is unlikely to return much before the fourth quarter of this year.

Tech and sales stats

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Enabling your sales teams to succeed is more important than ever, particularly as confidence among such teams is not necessarily uniformly high.

According to a survey carried out in mid-March as part of the LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020, sales professionals are forecasting a tough time ahead. Some 55 per cent of respondents anticipate seeing a decrease in their pipeline, while 44 per cent predict customers and prospects will be less responsive to their outreach activity. Unsurprisingly then, three out of five expect to close fewer deals.

This means the time is now ripe for sales leaders to step in and help steer and support their sales teams through these choppy commercial waters. This will enable them to hit targets and ensure the business emerges from the current crisis in the best possible shape. So, what do they need to consider to get it right?

Relationship-building is key. Exploring the central approaches, techniques and tools of the top-performing sales reps involved in the study – that is those who exceeded their quotas by more than 25 per cent – we found trust between buyers and sellers was the single most critical aspect in closing a deal. In other words, building strong human relationships is the key to sales success because, as the old adage goes, “people buy from people”.

A key aspect in building this trust is active listening, an approach that demonstrates to buyers the seller has truly engaged with their needs. In the LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020, 36 per cent of UK customers described active listening as a highly valuable quality. But only 23 per cent of UK sales managers described it as a highly sought-after trait when hiring. This gap highlights the work that still needs to be done in terms of investing in relationship-building techniques.

Importance of trust

The concept of mutual benefit is also important in the buyer-seller relationship. As our report indicates, being able to demonstrate ways of offering customers value for money from their purchases is vital and, when combined with trust, means sales reps move into the enviable position of becoming trusted advisers.

To become more productive and build trusted relationships at scale, another key ingredient is also required in a sophisticated, digital age: technology.

Our State of Sales Report 2020 reveals that top sales performers make greater use of technology than their colleagues and are more confident about which tools add value to their activities. More specifically, these high achievers are more likely to use sales intelligence tools, such as LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and social networking platforms. They are also more likely to view CRM and sales intelligence data as critical to their success.

Technology being used as the online equivalent of cold-calling, or indiscriminately broadcasting information and promotions through email or social media, is out. Rather, using insights and data gleaned from sales intelligence tools to identify and connect with new prospects and customers to develop and grow relationships with them, is most definitely in.

People are craving a more personalised, individualised approach, driven less by opportunism and more by a genuine concern for their needs

Not only does this make the most of the range of tools that LinkedIn can provide, it will help sales professionals to build and grow those relationships that are so key to their success.

This significant change of tack is particularly valued in a socially distanced world where the human touch and feeling connected with others is deemed increasingly important. In line with the findings of the LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020, this situation implies people are craving a more personalised, individualised approach, driven less by opportunism and more by a genuine concern for their needs.

A key means of enabling a more personalised, individualised approach is by using data and information to get a handle on customer industry and market trends. The aim is to understand the new landscapes your buyers are facing, to help support their requirements.

Other important issues high-performing salespeople routinely take into consideration include ensuring their customer and CRM data is clean and up to date to help them prioritise goals and optimise their go-to-market strategy. Finding and sharing relevant insights and information with customers to position themselves as thought leaders on top of their brief is also crucial, as is spreading their bets.

In other words, salespeople who are “multi-threaded” reap the benefits. The idea is they connect with six or more individuals in any given customer or prospect account, rather than just relying on one, which is an approach that will undoubtedly pay dividends during a time of flux.

Need for the human touch

So, how else can sales leaders best guide their teams through these changing times to ensure they are as productive and effective as possible?

It is important employees have the right tools in place to be successful. This means providing them with appropriate sales software and services to help them build relationships at scale. Make team dashboards available to ensure they are clear about their targets, goals and what is expected of them.

Invest in supporting new ways of working as team members start relying more than ever on technology as a key part of the sales process. Brushing up on, or acquiring, pertinent digital skills will enable them to become more effective and proficient, particularly in difficult economic circumstances.

While such training can take the form of online or video courses and include the curation of information as part of the wider mix, by far the most successful approach in terms of finessing performance is through coaching.

For example, a LinkedIn study in association with the Miller Heiman Group (now part of Korn Ferry) indicates participants in traditional curriculum-based training forget more than 80 per cent of the information provided within 90 days. But our latest report, entitled The Way to Create Value, demonstrates that if sales organisations invest in a strong coaching programme, they can expect to see an average 16.6 per cent increase in win rates for forecasted deals.

In addition, providing sales reps with education and insights during the sales process means they are likely to win 23 per cent more business than those who fail to do so.

What this situation ultimately demonstrates is relationship-building works at all levels. If sales managers are able to support their team more effectively, sales reps can in turn demonstrate more value to buyers, particularly during this difficult time, elevating the entire industry in the process.

In other words, what these findings make abundantly clear is that in a socially distanced world, where technology such as Sales Navigator has a vital role to play in enabling and facilitating relationship-building, the human touch is just as important as it ever was.

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